Great expectations for Bulls in 2019

Evelyne Viens was the joint top goalscorer in the NCAA in 2018 and is expected to have another great year in 2019. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

A lot is expected of No. 14 USF women’s soccer this season, especially coming off a season where the Bulls won the AAC regular-season title and progressed to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Evelyne Viens, Aubrey Megrath, Sydny Nasello and Andrea Hauksdottir were USF’s top players last season. Together, they combined for 39 goals and 22 assists.

Viens, who scored 20 goals and was the joint top goalscorer in the NCAA last season, and Hauksdottir were added to the MAC Hermann Preseason Watch List, the highest honor for any individual in collegiate soccer.

The addition of Viens and Hauksdottir to the watch list is an indicator of the quality of the players on the team, according to coach Denise Schilte-Brown.

“It’s a compliment for the team,” Schilte-Brown said. “I think the committee did a great job in their choice. I think [Viens and Hauksdottir] are pros. They step on the field, they play like pros, they train like pros … to have that accolade is a really big deal, but one that is earned.”

The noticeable chemistry between Viens, Hauksdottir and Megrath has upgraded the quality of the forward line.

“The three of them … they really love each other, they really played together for four years, they just know each other without thinking,” Schilte-Brown said. “The more time they’re on the field together, I think we’re going to enjoy that connection even more.”

The team as a whole is full of talent and, more importantly, experience. The cast of seniors — Megrath, Hauksdottir, Viens, Rebekah Anderson and Bri Blethen — has played a crucial role in the squad.

“I’m blessed with a senior class that’s very talented,” Schilte-Brown said. “Maybe [Viens and Hauksdottir] have separated themselves, but if it is, it’s by a fraction … because this group is good.”

Aside from their technical ability, the seniors bring experience to the team, but Hauksdottir has been impressed by the amount of talent that the underclassmen bring to the team.

“We talked a lot about seniors being the leaders, but on this team, I’d say we all lead in a different way,” Hauksdottir said. “And all of us, from freshman to senior, we bring different values to the table and I think we all have something to give.”

A few freshmen have made statements in the team, especially English defender Lucy Roberts, who played the full 90 minutes against Auburn in the regular season opener Thursday. 

Roberts previously played in the highest tier of English women’s soccer with Liverpool and made her debut at age 16, making her the youngest debutant in Liverpool history. Roberts also has experience on the international stage, playing for England U-17 in the UEFA Women’s U-17 Championship.

“She’s played a bunch of other countries and … after you wear your country’s jersey in some big games … it’s business,” Schilte-Brown said. “You step on the field and you perform and you perform your best and you do your job, and you do it well. I think she’s a real pro that way.”

Schilte-Brown expects great things from sophomore Sydny Nasello, who showed signs of midfield creativity last season, recording eight assists. Nasello also found the winner against Auburn on Thursday night with just 20 seconds left on the clock.

When given the chance to roam and create chances, Nasello’s impact is felt across the team.

“For me to move around it creates space for everyone else,” Nasello said. “Even if I don’t get the ball, it’s going to allow other players to get the ball and everyone is going to be so focused on me. That’s going to create space for them behind for them to go into the attack … I’m going to get the ball a lot more. A lot more attacking opportunities.”

Despite all the positive points heading into the season, Schilte-Brown wants to see more effective attempts on goal, as the team’s shot accuracy was just .479 last season.

“The girls have to understand that the goal is bigger than the defender,” Schilte-Brown said. “They don’t need to go around the defender to shoot. The defender is a great screen. So we need to use them as screens a little bit more.”

Nevertheless, Schilte-Brown is confident her team has the quality to make it far in the NCAA Tournament.

“We have a national championship-caliber team,” Schilte-Brown said on WHBO-AM 1040 on Tuesday.